I’m often asked about the differences between traditional, consumer packaged goods marketing and e-commerce, startup marketing. It’s true: the day-to-day marketing I engage in today is very different from that of my CPG days. But that’s not to say that the world in which I grew up is obsolete. I’m a better marketer for having spent almost a decade in a traditional blue chip training ground, and I marry the two worlds daily in my current role.

Consumer packaged goods companies and marketing have been around for many years (as in 100+). Although the tactical plans have evolved, many of the fundamentals remain the same. These companies have a healthy growth target of 3-5% of annual sales (a pretty steep number off a base in the multi-billions).  Contrast this with the remarkable double (and often triple) digit growth of e-commerce startups; the runway may be shorter, but the climb is faster.

I spent 5 years in professional services and 9 years at The Clorox Company (a large holding company of household names in the #1 and #2 category position; Clorox owns iconic brands such as Kingsford Charcoal, Hidden Valley Ranch, and of course the namesake Clorox Liquid Bleach). I had deep experience in strategic brand management, from integrated marketing campaigns, to brand architecture, to new product innovation. Loving my ties to the Bay Area, I itched for change and the chance of rapid growth. I wanted to leverage the traditional training (i.e., in-store marketing and print advertising) I’d received at Clorox, and make the move into tech.

I made a soft landing at a late-stage health & beauty e-commerce startup, taking with me the deep insights about the female consumer target and the health & wellness category knowledge I had gained at Clorox. I then transitioned this digital experience into my current role, digital marketing and merchandising. At Plum District we create an online marketing channel for vendors offering products and inspirations to a niche consumer target of moms with young children.

So how does my current role differ from that of my past? I’ve been fortunate in that I’m able to combine fundamentals from the two. My CPG training was invaluable, and there are three best practices I carry with me, allowing quick scaling in the startup world:

1. Begin with the consumer.

This is the lynchpin of successful marketing. It is impossible to create a market for a product that satisfies no consumer need. Although the need may be unspoken, it must exist.

Consumer insights aren’t limited to demographics. Rather it’s important to understand your consumer target holistically – demographics, psychographics, behaviors, motivators, and their category relationship. Marketing teams in traditional CPGs spend months developing deep consumer insights, through focus groups, in-home ethnographies, and retail shop-alongs.

The good news is that many insights can be gleaned quickly in e-commerce, by looking at purchase behaviors, measuring time spent on various sites and pages, A/B testing, and creating online consumer panels.

2. Develop a brand positioning statement.

Companies can’t be - and shouldn’t try to be - everything to everyone. While at Clorox working on Brita, I promised my consumer “a better you.” A lofty brand promise? Absolutely. But Brita had the advertising budget to spend behind this promise, convincing consumers that the healthier the water (functional benefit), the better they’d feel (emotional benefit), leading to “a better you” (brand promise).

At Plum District we promise our consumer target products and inspirations to make her life easier. Our sweet spot is family and children, and we’ve moved away from the offers of our past, which didn’t resonate with our core consumer target.

3. Measure everything.

Marketing is ROI-based. Every tactic can be measured and evaluated against competitive tactics. At Clorox, managing an integrated marketing campaign with a budget in the tens of millions, I constantly evaluated the tactical return of a consumer promotion against television advertising.  I was fortunate in that big brands have sophisticated marketing mix models for analysis.

In startups the data is more ambiguous, and historical data is often scarce. Couple that with the precious nature of startup dollars and the need to measure becomes even more important. What was a rounding error to me in the past now often comprises my entire budget. At Plum District the marketing team evaluates daily, in real-time, the impact of every promotional dollar versus every search dollar versus every paid advertising dollar.

Just as core fundamentals can be taken from traditional marketing companies, large CPGs could learn a thing or two from their scrappy startup counterparts. As the marketing landscape shifts, becoming more digital, traditional tactics need to evolve as well.

Here are several fundamentals I realized early on:

1. Test, course-correct, and quickly test again.

E-commerce companies are able to implement tactical changes in real-time. We gather data available about time spent in channels, the impact of mobile, the persuasiveness of messaging, and the delivery time of communications. We quickly draw conclusions, using this limited data, and adjust the campaigns.

It’s a mind shift - essentially everything is constantly in beta mode; execution doesn’t need to be flawless, rather speed is of the essence.

2. Focus on customer acquisition.

Sales are today’s revenue, but new subscribers are tomorrow’s revenue. At Plum District we are building engaged communities on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, and, yes, these communities do monetize.

We treat social media as a channel – a way to offer promotions, sell products, segment our consumer audience, and acquire new customers. The insights generated are tremendous, the access to cross-category information is invaluable, and the engagement is unmatchable.

The number of consumers daily on Facebook makes targeted reach more probable than investing in a thirty second television spot, which is skipped over by many DVRs. Understand these customers and the related metrics – what is the cost per acquisition, what is their lifetime value, how often do they repeat purchase, and who are the most valuable customers.

3. The simpler, the better.

A key component of all marketing strategies is the “desired consumer action.” Understand this action, and develop a 2x4 approach across all marketing channels.

Create a large CTA button, clearly and prominently (in layman’s terms) telling the consumer what action you wish them to take. This doesn’t need to be overly complicated; online selling is made up of the same components as real-life selling. Online merchandising is an extension of a real-life shelf set, including assortment, pricing and promotions.

Traditional marketing will continue to evolve, and marketers will need to do so, or risk becoming stagnant in a rapidly changing world.

Don’t distinguish between traditional and digital marketing, even here in Silicon Valley. Digital has emerged as a cost-effective way to drive brand positioning and marketing results, but brands cannot overlook the structure, strategic approach, and insights generated from traditional marketing.


Jennifer Nuckles is Chief Marketing Officer at Plum District.

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